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This Misery of Boots. By 
H. G Wells. Reprinted with 
alterations from me Indepen- 
dent Review, December 1905 

London : The Fabian Society 
3 Clement's Inn, Strand, w.c. 

of interest to enquirers into Socialism. 

A MODERN UTOPIA (3/6), a vision of the world under 

ANTICIPATIONS (3/6; or 6d.), an attempt to forecast 
the course of things in the Twentieth Century, an an- 
alysis of contemporary tendencies. 

MANKIND IN THE MAKING (3/6; or 6d.), a book 
on Education in the widest sense. 

THE FUTURE IN AMERICA (ro/6), a descriptive 
study of the situation in America, with especial reference 
to the drift towards Socialism. 

[All the above are published by CHAPMAN & HALL.] 


[Published by A. C. FiFlELD, 44 Fleet Street.] 

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (3/6), a fantastic alle- 
gory of the conflict between the gigantic constructive 
ideas of Science and the pettiness of individualism. 

IN THE DAYS OF THE COMET (6,'-), a romantic 
love story, giving a picturesque contrast between the 
disorders of our present state and the free beauty of an 
ideal world. 




[These latter are published by MACMILLAN & Co.] 



"TT does not do," said a friend of mine, 
A "to think about boots." For my 
own part, I have always been particu- 
larly inclined to look at boots, and think 
about them. I have an odd idea that 
most general questions can be expres- 
sed in terms of foot-wear which is 
perhaps why cobblers are often such 
philosophical men. Accident, it may 
be, gave me this persuasion. A very 
considerable part of my childhood was 
spent in an underground kitchen ; the 
window opened upon a bricked-in space, 
surmounted by a grating before my 
father's shop window. So that, when 
I looked out of the window, instead of 
seeing as children of a higher upbring- 
ing would do the heads and bodies of 
people, I saw their under side. I got 
acquainted indeed with all sorts of so- 

6 Ubis 

cial types as boots simply, indeed, as 
the soles of boots; and only subse- 
quently, and with care, have I fitted 
heads, bodies, and legs to these pedi- 

There would come boots and shoes 
(no doubt holding people) to stare at 
the shop, finicking, neat little women's 
boots, good sorts and bad sorts, fresh 
and new, worn crooked in the tread, 
patched or needing patching ; men's 
boots, clumsy and fine, rubber shoes, 
tennis shoes, goloshes. Brown shoes I 
never beheld it was before that time; 
but I have seen pattens. Boots used 
to come and commune at the window, 
duets that marked their emotional de- 
velopment by a restlessness or a kick. 
. . But anyhow, that explains my pre- 
occupation with boots. 

But my friend did not think it did, to 
think about boots. 

My friend was a realistic novelist, and 
a man from whom hope had departed. 
I cannot tell you how hope had gone out 
of his life; some subtle disease of^the 
soul had robbed him at last of any en- 
terprise, or belief in coming things; and 


he was trying to live the few declining 
years that lay before him in a sort of 
bookish comfort, among surroundings 
that seemed peaceful and beautiful, by 
not thinking of things that were painful 
and cruel. And we met a tramp who 
limped along the lane. 

"Chafed heel," I said, when we had 
parted from him again ; "and on these 
pebbly byways no man goes barefooted. ' ' 
My friend winced ; and a little silence 
came between us. We were both re- 
calling things ; and then for a time, when 
we began to talk again, until he would 
have no more of it, we rehearsed the 
miseries of boots. 

We agreed that to a very great ma- 
jority of people in this country boots are 
constantly a source of distress, giving 
pain and discomfort, causing trouble, 
causing anxiety. We tried to present 
the thing in a concrete form to our own 
minds by hazardous statistical inven- 
tions. " At the present moment," said 
I, "one person in ten in these islands is 
in discomfort through boots." 

My friend thought it was nearer one 
in five. 

8 Ubis 

" In the life of a poor man or a poor 
man's wife, and still more in the lives of 
their children, this misery of the boot 
occurs and recurs every year so many 

We made a sort of classification of 
these troubles. 

There is the TROUBLE OF THE NEW 

(i) They are made of some bad, un- 
ventilated material; and "draw the 
feet," as people say. 

(ii) They do not fit exactly. Most 
people have to buy ready-made boots ; 
they cannot afford others, and, in the 
submissive philosophy of poverty, they 
wear them to "get used" to them. This 
gives you the little-toe pinch, the big-toe 
pinch, the squeeze and swelling across 
the foot ; and, as a sort of chronic de- 
velopment of these pressures, come 
corns and all the misery of corns. Chil- 
dren's feet get distorted for good by this 
method of fitting the human being to the 
thing ; and a vast number of people in 
the world are, as a consequence of this, 
ashamed to appear barefooted. (I used 
to press people who came to see me in 

Of BOOtS 9 

warm pleasant weather to play Badmin- 
ton barefooted on the grass a delight- 
ful thing to do until I found out that 
many were embarrassed at the thought 
of displaying twisted toes and corns, 
and such-like disfigurements.) 

(iii) The third trouble of new boots is 
this : they are unseasoned and in bad 
condition, and so they squeak and make 
themselves an insulting commentary on 
one's ways. 

But these are but trifling troubles to 
what arises as the boots get into wear. 
Then it is the pinch comes in earnest. 
I and my friend, before he desisted, 
reckoned up three principal classes. 

(i) There are the various sorts of 
chafe. Worst of the chafes is certainly 
the heel chafe, when something goes 
wrong with the upright support at the 
heel. This, as a boy, I have had to en- 
dure for days together ; because there 
were no other boots for me. Then there 
is the chafe that comes when that inner 
lining of the boot rucks up very like 
the chafe it is that poor people are al- 
ways getting from over -darned and 

io Ubfs 

hastily-darned socks. And then there 
is the chafe that comes from ready-made 
boots one has got a trifle too large or 
long, in order to avoid the pinch and 
corns. After a little while, there comes 
a transverse crease across the loose- 
fitting forepart; and, when the boot 
stiffens from wet or any cause, it chafes 
across the base of the toes. They have 
you all ways. And I have a very lively 
recollection too of the chafe of the knots 
one made to mend broken laces one 
cannot be always buying new laces, and 
the knots used to work inward. And 
then the chafe of the crumpled tongue, 
(ii) Then there are the miseries that 
come from the wear of the sole. There 
is the rick of ankle because the heel has 
gone over, and the sense of insecurity ; 
and there is the miserable sense of not 
looking well from behind that many 
people must feel. It is almost always 
painful to me to walk behind girls who 
work out, and go to and fro, consuming 
much foot-wear, for this very reason, 
that their heels seem always to wear 
askew. Girls ought always to be so 
beautiful, most girls could be so beauti- 

Of J500t0 " 

ful, that to see their poor feet askew, 
the grace of their walk gone, a sort of 
spinal curvature induced, makes me 
wretched, and angry with a world that 
treats them so. And then there is the 
working through of nails, nails in the 
shoe. One limps on manfully in the 
hope presently of a quiet moment and 
a quiet corner in which one may hammer 
the thing down again. Thirdly, under 
this heading I recall the flapping sole. 
My boots always came to that stage at 
last; I wore the toes out first, and then 
the sole split from before backwards. 
As one walked it began catching the 
ground. One made fantastic paces to 
prevent it happening ; one was dread- 
fully ashamed. At last one was forced 
to sit by the wayside frankly, and cut 
the flap away. 

(iii) Our third class of miseries we 
made of splitting and leaks. These are 
for the most part mental miseries, the 
feeling of shabbiness as one sees the 
ugly yawn, for example, between toe cap 
and the main upper of the boot; but 
they involve also chills, colds, and a long 
string of disagreeable consequences. 

12 Ubis 

And we spoke too of the misery of sit- 
ting down to work (as multitudes of 
London school children do every wet 
morning) in boots with soles worn thin 
or into actual holes, that have got wet 
and chilling on the way to the work- 
place . . . 

From these instances my mind ran 
on to others. I made a discovery. I 
had always despised the common run of 
poor Londoners for not spending their 
Sundays and holidays in sturdy walks, 
the very best of exercises. I had allowed 
myself to say when I found myself one 
summer day at Margate: "What a soft 
lot all these young people must be who 
loaf about the band-stand here, when 
they might be tramping over the Kentish 
hills inland ! " But now I repented me 
of that. Long tramps indeed ! Their 
boots would have hurt them. Their 
boots would not stand it. I saw it all. 

And now my discourse was fairly 
under way. " Expede Herculem" I said ; 
"these miseries of boots are no more 
than a sample. The clothes people wear 
are no better than their boots ; and the 
houses they live in far worse. And think 

Of BOOtB '3 

of the shoddy garment of ideas and mis- 
conceptions and partial statements into 
which their poor minds have been 
jammed by way of education ! Think 
of the way that pinches and chafes them ! 
If one expanded the miseries of these 
things . . . Think, for example, of the 
results of poor, bad, unwise food, of 
badly-managed eyes and ears and teeth ! 
Think of the quantity of toothache." 

" I tell you, it does not do to think of 
such things ! " cried my friend, in a sort 
of anguish ; and would have no more of 
it at any price . . . 

And yet in his time he had written 
books full of these very matters, before 
despair overtook him. 



Well, I did not talk merely to torment 
him ; nor have I written this merely to 
torment you. You see I have a per- 
sistent persuasion that all these miseries 

14 Ubis 

are preventible miseries, which it lies 
in the power of men to cure. 

Everybody does not suffer misery 
from boots. 

One person I know, another friend of 
mine, who can testify to that ; who has 
tasted all the miseries of boots, and who 
now goes about the world free of them, 
but not altogether forgetful of them. 
A stroke of luck, aided perhaps by a 
certain alacrity on his own part, lifted 
him out of the class in which one buys 
one's boots and clothes out of what is 
left over from a pound a week, into the 
class in which one spends seventy or 
eighty pounds a year on clothing. Some- 
times he buys shoes and boots at very 
good shops; sometimes he has them 
made for him ; he has them stored in a 
proper cupboard, and great care is taken 
of them ; and so his boots and shoes and 
slippers never chafe, never pinch, never 
squeak, never hurt nor worry him, never 
bother him ; and, when he sticks out his 
toes before the fire, they do not remind 
him that he is a shabby and contemptible 
wretch, living meanly on the dust heaps 
of the world. You might think from 

of Boots is 

this he had every reason to congratulate 
himself and be happy, seeing that he has 
had good follow after evil ; but, such is 
the oddness of the human heart, he isn't 
contented at all. The thought of the mul- 
titudes so much worse off than himself 
in this matter of foot-wear, gives him 
no sort of satisfaction. Their boots 
pinch him vicariously. The black rage 
with the scheme of things that once he 
felt through suffering in his own person 
in the days when he limped shabbily 
through gaily busy, fashionable London 
streets, in split boots that *? 

okir^do, 11* u^" .- 

feels now just as badly as he goes about 
the world very comfortably himselt, but 
-among people whom he knows with a 
pitiless clearness to be almost intoler- 
ably uncomfortable. He has no opti- 
mistic illusion that things are all right 
with them. Stupid people who have al- 
ways been well off, who have always had 
boots that fit, may think that ; but not 
so, he. In one respect the thought of 
boots makes him even more viciously 
angry now, than it used to do. In th 
old days he was savage with his luck, 
but hopelessly savage ; he thought that 

bad boots, ugly uncomfortable clothes, 
rotten houses, were in the very nature 
of things. Now, when he sees a child 
sniffing and blubbering and halting upon 
the pavement, or an old country-woman 
going painfully along a lane, he no longer 
recognises the Pinch of Destiny His 
rage is lit by the thought, that there are 
tools in this world who ought to have 
foreseen and prevented this. He no 
longer curses fate, but the dulness of 
statesmen and powerful responsible 
people who have neither the heart nor 

the badness of'hTs clM epIe ' from 

c o n , 

being shabby t S L shame from 
state g of Se^V 1 " f ^e ; neglected 

of Boots 17 

beyond the unaided power of a poor 
overworked man to remedy. And now 
all these disagreeable things have gone 
out of his life ; he has consulted dentists 
and physicians, he has hardly any dull 
days from colds, no pain from toothache 
at all, no gloom of indigestion. . . . 

I will not go on with the tale of good 
fortune of this lucky person. My pur- 
pose is served if I have shown that this 
misery of boots is not an unavoidable 
curse upon mankind. If one man can 
evade it, others can. By good manage- 
ment it may be altogether escaped. If 
you, or what is more important to most 
human beings, if any people dear to you, 
suffer from painful or disfiguring boots 
or shoes, and you can do no better for 
them, it is simply because you are get- 
ting the worse side of an ill-managed 
world. It is not the universal lot. 

And what I say of boots is true of all 
the other minor things of life. If your 
wife catches a bad cold because her 
boots are too thin for the time of the 
year, or dislikes going out because she 
cuts a shabby ugly figure, if your chil- 
dren look painfully nasty because their 

1 8 Ubis 

faces are swollen with toothache, or be- 
cause their clothes are dirty, old, and 
ill-fitting, if you are all dull and disposed 
to be cross with one another for want 
of decent amusement and change of air 
don't submit, don't be humbugged for 
a moment into believing that this is the 
dingy lot of all mankind. Those people 
you love are living in a badly-managed 
world and on the wrong side of it; and 
such wretchednesses are the daily de- 
monstration of that. 

Don't say for a moment : " Such is 
life." Don't think their miseries are 
part of some primordial curse there is 
no escaping. The disproof of that is 
for any one to see. There are people, 
people no more deserving than others, 
who suffer from none of these things. 
You may feel you merit no better than 
to live so poorly and badly that your 
boots are always hurting you ; but do 
the little children, the girls, the mass of 
decent hard-up people, deserve no better 
fate ? 

ot Boots 19 



Now let us imagine some one who will 
dispute what I am saying. I do not sup- 
pose any one will dispute my argument 
that a large part of the misery of civi- 
lised life I do not say " all " but only 
a " large part " arises out of the net- 
work of squalid insufficiencies of which 
I have taken this misery of boots as the 
simplest example. But I do believe 
quite a lot of people will be prepared to 
deny that such miseries can be avoided. 
They will say that every one cannot have 
the best of things, that of all sorts of 
good things, including good leather and 
cobbling, there is not enough to go 
round, that lower-class people ought not 
to mind being shabby and uncomfort- 
able, that they ought to be very glad to 
be able to live at all, considering what 
they are, and that it is no good stirring 
up discontent about things that cannot 
be altered or improved. 

Such arguments are not to be swept 
aside with a wave of the hand. - It is 
perfectly true that every one cannot 


have the best of things ; and it is in the 
nature of things that some boots should 
be better and some worse. To some 
people, either by sheer good luck, or 
through the strength of their determi- 
nation to have them, the exquisitely 
good boots, those of the finest leather 
and the most artistic cut, will fall. I 
have never denied that. N obody dreams 
of a time when every one will have ex- 
actly as good boots as every one else ; 
I am not preaching any such childish 
and impossible equality. But it is a long 
way from recognising that there must 
be a certain picturesque and interest- 
ing variety in this matter of foot-wear, 
to the admission that a large majority 
of people can never hope for more than 
to be shod in a manner that is frequently 
painful, uncomfortable, unhealthy, or 
unsightly. That admission I absolutely 
refuse to make. There is enough good 
leather in the world to make good 
sightly boots and shoes for all who need 
them, enough men at leisure and enough 
power and machinery to do all the work 
required, enough unemployed intelli- 
gence to organise the shoemaking and 

of J3oots 21 

shoe distribution for everybody. What 
stands in the way ? 

Let us put that question in a rather 
different form. Here on the one hand 
you can see for yourself in any un- 
fashionable part of Great Britain are 
people badly, uncomfortably, painfully 
shod, in old boots, rotten boots, sham 
boots ; and on the other great stretches 
of land in the world, with unlimited 
possibilities of cattle and leather and 
great numbers of people, who, either 
through wealth or trade disorder, are 
doing no work. And our question is : 
"Why cannot the latter set to work 
and make and distribute boots ? " 

Imagine yourself trying to organise 
something of this kind of Free Booting 
expedition ; and consider the difficulties 
you would meet with. You would begin 
by looking for a lot of leather. Imagine 
yourself setting off to South America, 
for example, to get leather; beginning 
at the very beginning by setting to work 
to kill* and flay a herd of cattle. You 
find at once you are interrupted. Along 
comes your first obstacle in the shape 
of a man who tells you the cattle and 

22 Ubfs 

the leather belong to him. You explain 
that the leather is wanted for people 
who have no decent boots in England. 
He says he does not care a rap what 
you want it for; before you may take 
it from him you have to buy him off; it 
is his private property, this leather, and 
the herd and the land over which the 
herd ranges. You ask him how much 
he wants for his leather; and he tells 
you frankly, just as much as he can in- 
duce you to give. 

If he chanced to be a person of ex- 
ceptional sweetness of disposition, you 
might perhaps argue with him. You 
might point out to him that this pro- 
ject of giving people splendid boots was 
a fine one that would put an end to much 
human misery. He might even sympa- 
thise with your generous enthusiasm; 
but you would, I think, find him ada- 
mantine in his resolve to get just as 
much out of you for his leather as you 
could with the utmost effort pay. 

Suppose now you said to him: " But 
how did you come by this land and these 
herds, so that you can stand between 
them and the people who have need of 

of Boots 3 

them, exacting this profit?" He would 
probably either embark upon a long rig- 
marole, or, what is much more probable, 
lose his temper and decline to argue. 
Pursuing your doubt as to the right- 
fulness of his property in these things, 
you might admit he deserved a certain 
reasonable fee for the rough care he 
had taken of the land and herds. But 
cattle breeders are a rude, violent race ; 
and it is doubtful if you would get far 
beyond your proposition of a reasonable 
fee. You would in fact have to buy off 
this owner of the leather at a good 
thumping price he exacting just as 
much as he could get from you if you 
wanted to go on with your project. 

Well, then you would have to get your 
leather here; and, to do that, you would 
have to bring it by railway and ship to 
this country. And here again you would 
find people without any desire or inten- 
tion of helping your project, standing 
in your course, resolved to make every 
possible penny out of you on your way 
to provide sound boots for everyone. 
You would find the railway was private 
property, and had an owner or owners ; 

24 Ubfs 

you would find the ship was private pro- 
perty, with an owner or owners ; and 
that none of these would be satisfied 
for a moment with a mere fee adequate 
to their services. They too would be 
resolved to make every penny of profit 
out of you. If you made inquiries about 
the matter, you would probably find the 
real owners of railway and ship were 
companies of shareholders, and that 
the profit squeezed out of your poor 
people's boots at this stage went to fill 
the pockets of old ladies at Torquay, 
spendthrifts in Paris, well-booted gen- 
tlemen in London clubs, all sorts of 
glossy people. . . . 

Well, you get the leather to England 
at last; and now you want to make it 
into boots. You take it to a centre of 
population, invite workers to come to 
you, erect sheds and machinery upon 
a vacant piece of ground, and start off 
in a sort of fury of generous industry, 
boot-making. . . . Do you ? There 
comes along an owner for that vacant 
piece of ground, declares it is his pro- 
perty, demands an enormous sum for 
rent. And your workers all round you, 

ot Boots 25 

you find, cannot get house room until 
they too have paid rent every inch of 
the country is somebody's property, 
and a man may not shut his eyes for 
an hour without the consent of some 
owner or other. And the food your 
shoe-makers eat, the clothes they wear, 
have all paid tribute and profit to land- 
owners, cart - owners, house - owners, 
endless tribute over and above the fair 
pay for work that has been done upon 
them. . . . 

So one might go on. But you begin 
to see now one set of reasons at least 
why every one has not good comfortable 
boots. There could be plenty of leather ; 
and there is certainly plenty of labour 
and quite enough intelligence in the 
world to manage that and a thousand 
other desirable things. But this insti- 
tution of Private Property in land and 
naturally produced things, these ob- 
structive claims that prevent you using 
ground, or moving material, and that 
have to be bought out at exorbitant 
prices, stand in the way. All these 
owners hang like parasites upon your 
enterprise at its every stage ; and, by the 


time you get your sound boots well made 
in England, you will find them costing 
about a pound a pair high out of the 
reach of the general mass of people. 
And you will perhaps not think me fanci- 
ful and extravagant when I confess that 
when I realise this, and look at poor 
people's boots in the street, and see them 
cracked and misshapen and altogether 
nasty, I seem to see also a lot of little 
phantom land -owners, cattle - owners, 
house -owners, owners of all sorts, 
swarming over their pinched and weary 
feet like leeches, taking much and giving 
nothing, and being the real cause of all 
such miseries. 

Now is this a necessary and unavoid- 
able thing? that is our question. Is 
there no other way of managing things 
than to let these property-owners exact 
their claims, and squeeze comfort, pride, 
happiness, out of the lives of the common 
run of people? Because, of course, it 
is not only the boots they squeeze into 
meanness and badness. It is the claim 
and profit of the land-owner and house- 
owner that make our houses so ugly, 
shabby, and dear, that make our road- 

Of B00t0 *7 

ways and railways so crowded and in- 
convenient, that sweat our schools, our 
clothing, our food boots we took merely 
by way of one example of a universal 

Well, there are a number of people 
who say there is a better way, and that 
the world could be made infinitely better 
in all these matters, made happier and 
better than it ever has been in these re- 
spects, by refusing to have private pro- 
perty in all these universally necessary 
things. They say that it is possible to 
have the land administered, and such 
common and needful things as leather 
produced, and boots manufactured, and 
no end of other such generally necessary 
services carried on, not for the private 
profit of individuals, but for the good of 
all. They propose that the State should 
takeaway the land, and the railways, and 
shipping, and many great organised en- 
terprises from their owners, who use 
them simply to squeeze the means for a 
wasteful private expenditure out of the 
common mass of men, and should ad- 
minister all these things, generously and 
boldly, not for profit, but for service. It 

28 TTbis /HMserg 

is this idea of extracting profit they hold 
which is the very root of the evil. These 
are the Socialists; and they are the only 
people who do hold out any hope of far- 
reaching change that will alter the pre- 
sent dingy state of affairs, of which this 
painful wretchedness of boots is only 
one typical symbol. 


I will not pretend to be impartial in 
this matter, and to discuss as though I 
had an undecided mind, whether the 
world would be better if we could abolish 
private property in land and in many 
things of general utility ; because I have 
no doubt left in the matter. I believe 
that private property in these things 
is no more necessary and unavoidable 
than private property in our fellow- 
creatures, or private property in bridges 
and roads. The idea that anything and 
everything may be claimed as private 
property belongs to the dark ages of the 

of Boots 29 

world; and it is not only a monstrous 
injustice, but a still more monstrous in- 
convenience. Suppose we still admitted 
private property in high roads, and let 
every man who had a scrap of high road 
haggle a bargain with us before we could 
drive by in a cab ! You say life would 
be unendurable. But indeed it amounts 
to something a little like that if we use 
a railway now; and it is quite like that 
if one wants a spot of ground somewhere 
upon which one may live. I see no more 
difficulty in managing land, factories, 
and the like, publicly for the general 
good, than there is in managing roads 
and bridges, and the post office and the 
police. So far I see no impossibility 
whatever in Socialism. To abolish pri- 
vate property in these things would be 
to abolish all that swarm of parasites, 
whose greed for profit and dividend 
hampers and makes a thousand useful 
and delightful enterprises costly or hope- 
less. It would abolish them ; but is that 
any objection whatever? 

And as for taking such property from 
the owners ; why shouldn't we ? The 
world has not only in the past taken 


slaves from their owners, with no com- 
pensation or with a meagre compensa- 
tion ; but in the history of mankind, dark 
as it is, there are innumerable cases of 
slave-owners resigning their inhuman 
rights. You may say that to take away 
property from people is unjust and rob- 
bery; but is that really so? Suppose 
you found a number of children in a nur- 
sery all very dull and unhappy because 
one of them, who had been badly spoilt, 
had got all the toys together and claimed 
them all, and refused to let the others 
have any. Would you not dispossess 
the child, however honest its illusion 
that it was right to be greedy? That is 
practically the position of the property- 
owner to-day. You may say, if you 
choose, that property -owners, land- 
owners for example, must be bought 
out and not robbed ; but since getting 
the money to buy them out involves tax- 
ing the property of some one else, who 
may possibly have a better claim to it 
than the land-owner to his, I don't quite 
see where the honesty of that course 
comes in. You can only give property 
for property in buying and selling ; and 

of JSoots 31 

if private property is not robbery, then 
not only Socialism but ordinary taxation 
must be. But if taxation is a justifiable 
proceeding, if you can tax me (as I am 
taxed) for public services, a shilling and 
more out of every twenty shillings I 
earn, then I do not see why you should 
not put a tax upon the land-owner if you 
want to do so, of a half or two thirds or 
all his land, or upon the railway share- 
holder of ten or fifteen or twenty shil- 
lings in the pound on his shares. In 
every change some one has to bear the 
brunt; every improvement in machinery 
and industrial organisation deprives 
some poor people of an income ; and I 
do not see why we should be so extra- 
ordinarily tender to the rich, to those 
who have been unproductive all their 
lives, when they stand in the way of the 
general happiness. And though I deny 
the right to compensation I do not deny 
its probable advisability. So far as the 
question of method goes it is quite con- 
ceivable that we may partially compen- 
sate the property owners and make all 
sorts of mitigating arrangements to 
avoid cruelty to them in our attempt 


to end the wider cruelties of to-day. 

But, apart from the justice of the case, 
many people seem to regard Socialism 
as a hopeless dream, because, as they 
put it, " it is against human nature." 
Every one with any scrap of property in 
land, or shares, or what not, they tell us, 
will be bitterly opposed to the coming of 
Socialism ; and, as such people have all 
the leisure and influence in the world, 
and as all able and energetic people tend 
naturally to join that class, there never 
can be any effectual force to bring So- 
cialism about. But that seems to me to 
confess a very base estimate of human 
nature. There are, no doubt, a number 
of dull, base, rich people who hate 
and dread Socialism for purely selfish 
reasons ; but it is quite possible to be a 
property-owner and yet be anxious to 
see Socialism come to its own. 

For example, the man whose private 
affairs I know best in the world, the 
second friend I named, the owner of all 
those comfortable boots, gives time and 
energy and money to further this hope 
of Socialism, although he pays income 
tax on twelve hundred a year, and has 

Of 3BOOt0 33 

shares and property to the value of some 
thousands of pounds. And that he does 
out of no instinct of sacrifice. He be- 
lieves he would be happier and more 
comfortable in a Socialistic state of 
affairs, when it would not be necessary 
for him to hold on to that life-belt of in- 
vested property. He finds it and quite 
a lot of well-off people are quite of his 
way of thinking a constant flaw upon 
a life of comfort and pleasant interests 
to see so many people, who might be his 
agreeable friends and associates, detest- 
ably under-educated, detestably housed, 
in the most detestable clothes and boots, 
and so detestably broken in spirit that 
they will not treat him as an equal. It 
makes him feel he is like that spoilt child 
in the nursery; he feels ashamed and 
contemptible ; and, since individual 
charity only seems in the long run to 
make matters worse, he is ready to give 
a great deal of his life, and lose his en- 
tire little heap of possessions if need be, 
very gladly lose it, to change the present 
order of things in a comprehensive 

I am quite convinced that there are 

34 ^bts /HMsetn? 

numbers of much richer and more in- 
fluential people who are of his way of 
thinking. Much more likely to obstruct 
the way to Socialism is the ignorance, 
the want of courage, the stupid want of 
imagination of the very poor, too shy 
and timid and clumsy to face any change 
they can evade ! But, even with them, 
popular education is doing its work ; and 
I do not fear but that in the next gener- 
ation we shall find Socialists even in the 
slums. The unimaginative person who 
owns some little bit of property, an acre 
or so of freehold land, or a hundred 
pounds in the savings bank, wilt no doubt 
be the most tenacious passive resister 
to Socialistic ideas; and such, I fear, we 
must reckon, together with the insensi- 
tive rich, as our irreconcilable enemies, 
as irremovable pillars of the present 
order. The mean and timid elements in 
"human nature" are, and will be, I ad- 
mit, against Socialism ; but they are not 
all "human nature," not half human na- 
ture. And when, in the whole history 
of the world, have meanness and timidity 
won a struggle? It is passion, it is en- 
thusiasm, and indignation that mould 

Of 3BOOt5 35 

the world to their will and I cannot 
see how any one can go into the back 
streets of London, or any large British 
town, and not be filled up with shame, 
and passionate resolve to end so grubby 
and mean a state of affairs as is dis- 
played there. 

I don't think the "human nature" 
argument against the possibility of So- 
cialism will hold water. 


Let us be clear about one thing : that 
Socialism means revolution, that it 
means a change in the every-day tex- 
ture of life. It may be a very gradual 
change, but it will be a very complete 
one. You cannot change the world, 
and at the same time not change the 
world. You will find Socialists about, 
or at any rate men calling themselves 
Socialists, who will pretend that this is 
not so, who will assure you that some 
odd little jobbing about municipal gas 


and water is Socialism, and back-stairs 
intervention between Conservative and 
Liberal the way to the millennium. You 
might as well call a gas jet in the lobby 
of a meeting-house, the glory of God in 
Heaven ! 

Socialism aims to change, not only the 
boots on people's feet, but the clothes 
they wear, the houses they inhabit, the 
work they do, the education they get, 
their places, their honours, and all their 
possessions. Socialism aims to make 
a new world out of the old. It can only 
be attained by the intelligent, outspoken, 
courageous resolve of a great multitude 
of men and women. You must get 
absolutely clear in your mind that So- 
cialism means a complete change, a break 
with history, with much that is pictur- 
esque ; whole classes will vanish. The 
world will be vastly different, with a 
different sort of houses, different sorts 
of people. All the different trades and 
industries will be changed, the medical 
profession will be carried on under dif- 
ferent conditions, engineering, science, 
the theatrical trade, the clerical trade, 
schools, hotels, almost every trade, will 

Of 3BOOt0 37 

have to undergo as complete an in- 
ternal change as a caterpillar does 
when it becomes a moth. If you are 
afraid of so much change as that, it is 
better you should funk about it now 
than later. The whole system has to 
be changed, if we are to get rid of the 
masses of dull poverty that render our 
present state detestable to any sensi- 
tive man or woman. That, and no less, 
is the aim of all sincere Socialists: the 
establishment of a new and better order 
of society by the abolition of private 
property in land, in natural productions, 
and in their exploitation a change as 
profound as the abolition of private pro- 
perty in slaves would have been in 
ancient Rome or Athens. If you demand 
less than that, if you are not prepared 
to struggle for that, you are not really 
a Socialist. If you funk that, then you 
must make up your mind to square your 
life to a sort of personal and private 
happiness with things as they are, and 
decide with my other friend that "it 
doesn't do to think about boots." 

It is well to insist upon one central 
idea. Socialism is a common-sense, 

38 ttbfs 

matter-of-fact proposal to change our 
conventional admission of what is or is 
not property, and to re-arrange the world 
according to these revised conceptions. 
A certain number of clever people, dis- 
satisfied with the straightforwardness 
of this, have set themselves to put it in 
some brilliant obscure way ; they will 
tell you that Socialism is based on the 
philosophy of Hegel, or that it turns on 
a theory of Rent, or that it is some- 
how muddled up with a sort of white 
Bogey called the Overman, and all sorts 
of brilliant, nonsensical, unappetising 
things. The theory of Socialism, so far 
as English people are concerned, seems 
to have got up into the clouds, and its 
practice down into the drains ; and it is 
well to warn inquiring men, that neither 
the epigram above nor the job beneath 
are more than the accidental accompani- 
ments of Socialism. Socialism is a very 
large, but a plain, honest, and human en- 
terprise; its ends are to be obtained 
neither by wit nor cunning, but by out- 
spoken resolve, by the self-abnegation, 
the enthusiasm, and the loyal co-opera- 
tion of great masses of people. 

Of JSOOtS 39 

The main thing, therefore, is the crea- 
tion of these great masses of people out 
of the intellectual confusion and vague- 
ness of the present time. Let me sup- 
pose that you find yourself in sympathy 
with this tract, that you, like my second 
friend, find the shabby dulness, the posi- 
tive misery of a large proportion of the 
population of our world, make life under 
its present conditions almost intolerable, 
and that it is in the direction of Social- 
ism that the only hope of a permanent 
remedy lies. What are we to do ? Ob- 
viously to give our best energies to mak- 
ing other people Socialists, to organising 
ourselves with all other Socialists, irre- 
spective of class or the minor details of 
creed, and to making ourselves audible, 
visible, effectual as Socialists, wherever 
and whenever we can. 

We have to think about Socialism, 
read about it, discuss it ; so that we may 
be assured and clear and persuasive 
about it. We have to confess our faith 
openly and frequently. We must refuse 
to be called Liberal or Conservative, 
Republican or Democrat, or any of those 
ambiguous things. Every where we must 

40 Ubis 

make or join a Socialist organisation, a 
club or association or what not, so that 
we may " count." For us, as for the 
early Christians, preaching our gospel 
is the supreme duty. Until Socialists 
can be counted, and counted upon by the 
million, little will be done. When they 
are a new world will be ours. 

Above all, if I may offer advice to a 
fellow-Socialist, I would say: Cling to 
the simple essential idea of Socialism, 
which is the abolition of private property 
in anything but what a man has earned 
or made. Do not complicate your cause 
with elaborations. And keep in your 
mind, if you can, some sort of talisman 
to bring you back to that essential gospel, 
out of the confusions and warring sug- 
gestions of every-day discussion. 

For my own part, I have, as I said at 
the beginning, a prepossession with 
boots ; and my talisman is this : The 
figure of a badly fed but rather pretty 
little girl of ten or eleven, dirty, and her 
hands coarse with rough usage, her poor 
pretty child's body in ungainly rags, and, 
on her feet, big broken-down boots that 
hurt her. And particularly I think of 

Of 3BOOtS 41 

her wretched sticks of legs and the limp 
of her feet ; and all those phantom 
owners and profit- takers I spoke of, they 
are there about her martyrdom, leech- 
like, clinging to her as she goes .... 
I want to change everything in the 
world that made that; and I do not 
greatly care what has to go in the pro- 
cess. Do you ? 


[Here is just a bit of hard fact to 
carry out what I say. It is a quota- 
tion from a letter from a workman to 
my friend Mr. Chiozza Money, one of 
the best informed writers upon labour 
questions in England : 

" I am a railway man, in constant work at 305. 
per week. I am the happy, or otherwise, father 
of six healthy children. Last year I bought 
twenty pairs of boots. This year, up to date, I 
have bought ten pairs, costing 2 ; and yet, at 
the present time, my wife and five of the children 
have only one pair each. I have two pairs, both 
of which let in the water ; but I see no prospect 
at present of getting new ones. I ought to say, 
of course t that my wife is a thoroughly domesti- 

of JSoota 

cated woman, and I am one of the most temper- 
ate of men. So much so, that if all I spend in 
luxuries was saved it would not buy a pair of 
boots once a year. But this is the point I want 
to mention. During 1903 my wages were 255. 6d. 
per week ; and I then had the six children. My 
next-door neighbour was a boot-maker and re- 
pairer. He fell out of work, and was out for 
months. During that time, of course, my chil- 
dren's boots needed repairing as at other times. 
I had not the money to pay for them being re- 
paired, so had to do what repairing I could my- 
self. One day I found out that I was repairing 
boots on one side of the wall, and my neighbour 
on the other side out of work, and longing to do 
the work I was compelled to do myself. . . ." 

The wall was a commercial organisa- 
tion of society based on private property 
in land and natural productions. These 
two men must work for the owners or 
not at all; they cannot work for one an- 
other. Food first, then rent ; and boots, 
if you can, when all the owners are 





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Wells, H. G. (Herbert George) 
This misery of boots